Restaurants that please everyone: where to dine with the family over the holidays
Charles Dickens’ famous quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” can be applied to holiday dining with the family. Screaming tots running around, grandpa complaining about the noise levels, and picky eaters scrutinizing the menu can make eating out a nightmare. Before you run off to a place with laminated menus, here are some suggestions to make the ordeal (er… joyous occasion) as stress-free as possible.
Hart House Restaurant (6664 Deer Lake Avenue, Burnaby, 604-298-4278)
The combination of the lakeside setting, expansive grounds, and Tudor-style mansion make Hart House a crowd pleaser. Over the phone, co-owner Carol Smolen explains why families feel so comfortable in the restaurant: “The house was built around 1910 and was a home for four different families. The physical house reminds people of a family home.” Of course, that doesn’t mean getting too cozy, but Hart House does its best to accommodate all diners, from booster seats for the kids to whipping up special requests in the kitchen (the more notice the better). The menu features Pacific Northwest cuisine, so think grilled B.C. salmon with winter vegetables, warm quinoa, and fried artichokes. They’re also open for Christmas Day dinner ($62 per adult; $35 per kid [under age 12]), and a $38 holiday lunch buffet until Friday (December 23); the buffet is $21 per kid under age 12. (Closed Monday [December 26] and January 1 and 2.)
Shaughnessy Restaurant (5251 Oak Street, 604-261-0011)
With the lights of VanDusen Botanical Garden all sparkly outside, there’s something magical about being nestled in Shaughnessy Restaurant’s intimately elegant surroundings. Besides the obvious draw of the Festival of Lights (on until January 2; closed Christmas Day), owner Chris Chatten says the restaurant itself aims to be welcoming to families: “We have contemporary comfort food, and we have a relaxed ambiance.” During a phone chat, he explains that lots of kids come to the restaurant, so there are booster seats and high chairs, as well as a special menu that includes kiddie faves such as mac and cheese. Older diners can opt for dishes like the grilled pork chop with chive potato mash and sautéed Napa cabbage with smoked bacon. On Christmas Eve, there’s a special two-course menu for $46.95. Just make sure to book ahead, and get there early to snag the free parking. (Closed Sunday [December 25].)
The French Table (3916 Main Street, 604-689-3237)
Herve Martin, chef/owner of the French Table, had no desire to open the latest trendy establishment when he closed the Hermitage downtown and moved to Main Street. “I am not trying to be a new restaurant serving West Coast cuisine. I am trying to be a French bistro,” he insists over the phone. As a result, there is a warm, shabby chicness to the décor that will immediately put families at ease. Plus, classic French comfort dishes, like coq au vin and bouillabaisse, at prices substantially lower than the Hermitage ($25 and under for entrées), will keep everyone happily sated. Booster seats and high chairs are on hand, as well as a kiddie menu; $15 gets them a main course, like a pork chop with frites and a small salad, plus a dessert. “Guess what they all want? Ice cream,” laughs Martin. (Closed Sunday to Tuesday [December 25 to 27] and January 1 to 2.)
Trafalgars Bistro (2603 West 16th Avenue, 604-739-0555)
If the West Side is convenient for family members, consider dining at Trafalgars Bistro, a tucked-away neighbourhood favourite that offers hospitable service, and consistently solid modern French fare. Your group can relax in the inviting bistro surroundings while deciding between menu items like braised elk with mashed potatos and honey glazed carrots, or sablefish with sunchoke and potato rösti and black trumpet mushrooms. Server Melanie Bishop explains during a phone chat that kids can enjoy a smaller version of their pappardelle pasta with tomato sauce and ricotta cheese. This simple dish should keep them happy in their booster seats. Oh, and save room for dessert since Trafalgars’ last course temptations come from sister bakery Sweet Obsession. (Closed Saturday night [December 24] and all day Sunday and Monday [December 25 to 26].
Rocky Mountain Flatbread (1876 West 1st Avenue, 604-730-0321, and 4186 Main Street, 604-566-9779)
Families who want a place to entertain the little ones can head over to Rocky Mountain Flatbread. Jon Keighley, who manages the Kits location, sums it up. “We cater mostly to families. There’s a play area, and there’s lot of good healthy food.” Kids can pick from items like simple pasta with cheese or an organic flatbread topped with tomato sauce and mozza. For grownups, there’s everything from tomato bocconcini salad to organic flatbread pizza topped with cured ham, brown mushrooms, mango, arugula, and Parmesan. On December 31, there will be New Year’s Eve festivities from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at both locations featuring kids’ pizza making, face painting, and balloon twisting. The activities are included for those dining, and reservations are recommended. (Closed Saturday to Monday [December 24 to 26] and January 1.)